Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Delacorte Press: Six of Sorrow by Amanda Linsmeier

Shadow Mountain: To Love the Brooding Baron (Proper Romance Regency) by Jentry Flint

Soho Crime: Exposure (A Rita Todacheene Novel) by Ramona Emerson

Charlesbridge Publishing: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, Illustrated by Doug Salati

Pixel+ink: Missy and Mason 1: Missy Wants a Mammoth

Bramble: The Stars Are Dying: Special Edition (Nytefall Trilogy #1) by Chloe C Peñaranda

Quotation of the Day

'Why Children Will Save Books'

"[O]ne of the reasons e-books won't destroy the book world is because almost anyone I know who owns a Kindle or similar digital device is over 40, and because they're over 40, the same kids who begat Napster and file-sharing of rock 'n' roll will run as far from the phenomenon as possible. When Grandma's seen reading her space age digi-book, junior will do the opposite. In fact, kids may save books, instead of destroying them. I hope it happens. I know my kids read books, and they read them lots."

--Dave Bidini in a column for the National Post headlined "Why children will save books, and other lessons from an Aussie literary fest."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!


FTC Approves Liberty Media's B&N Investment

The Federal Trade Commission signaled it has no antitrust objections to Liberty Media's purchase of a $204-million stake (16.6%) in Barnes & Noble in the form of preferred stock (Shelf Awareness, August 19, 2011): the Commission granted early termination of the waiting period required by the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.

Under the terms of the investment, Liberty will have two seats on B&N's board, which will expand to 11 members with the addition of Gregory B. Maffei, Liberty Media's president and CEO, and Mark D. Carleton, senior v-p of Liberty.

AuthorBuzz for the Week of 04.22.24

Two E-Book Surveys Showcase Gains, Growing Pains

During the past year, the number of Americans using e-readers nearly doubled, according to a recent Harris survey of 2,183 people that found 15% of adults used an e-book reader, compared to 8% 12 months ago, the Bookseller reported. The study also discovered that 16% of Americans read between 11 and 20 books per year, with 20% reading more than 21, Among those who own e-reading devices, however, a third read 11-20 books a year and 27% read more than 21.

E-reader owners are major book buyers as well, with 17% purchasing between 11 and 20 titles per year and 17% buying more than 21.

Crime and thriller books (47%) were the most popular genre, followed by science fiction (25%), literature (23%) and romance (23%).  For nonfiction, biography (29%) topped history (27%) and religion and spirituality (24%).

"This is a huge transition time for publishing companies and how they adapt will determine who is still standing 10 years from now," the Harris report observed.


How publishers are adapting was the focus of another recent study. One out of five e-book publishers generates more than 10% of sales from e-books, indicating that the segment still has substantial room for growth, according to Aptara's third annual e-book survey of 1,350 publishers from the trade, education, professional and corporate markets.

More than any other publishing segment, trade has most embraced e-books: the percentage of trade publishers producing e-books rose from 50% to 76% in two years. Another 19% of trade respondents indicated they have plans in place for e-book production. Only 6% said they are not planning for e-books in the foreseeable future, a 17% drop from Aptara's first survey.

All segments expressed uncertainty about which sales channel is the most lucrative for their e-books. According to the survey, the choices of "Unsure" and "Other" ranked as the third-highest response options. Of the comments generated under "Other," most reported that e-book sales are still very young, or pending, Aptara noted, adding that this lack of clarity surrounding a basic business metric like revenue source suggests that most publishers' e-book operations are still in their infancy.

The survey found that publishers still rely most heavily on Amazon for distribution, but the percentage (18%) is steadily declining due to the proliferation of other platforms and channels, particularly ePub-based. But a rapidly expanding e-book sales and distribution market is making the pie bigger for all concerned.

As for specific devices, the PC/Mac category at 19% leads by the narrowest of margins over Kindle (18%), followed by "Single-function ePub devices" (15%) and Apple iBookstore (15%). Since this survey question allowed for multiple selections, Aptara found that when "Single function ePub devices" was combined with "Apple iBookstore (ePub)" responses, ePub's emerging dominance was more apparent, with Kindle selected 18% of the time and ePub 30%. Of all the publishing market segments, trade has the widest ePub-to-Kindle margin at 34% to 19%.

Although Amazon generates significantly more e-book sales than ePub-based platforms and devices, Aptara suggested that publishers are preparing for an increase in the adoption of ePub, possibly concurrent with the introduction of ePub 3, and anticipating alternate ePub-based distribution channels.

Two out of three e-book publishers have not converted the majority of their backlist titles to e-books.

In response to the big survey question--"Are/will your eBooks be produced primarily in place of, or in addition to, print editions?"--publishers were nearly unanimous, with 85% across all market segments saying they are producing print as well as e-book versions of their titles.

Looking to the future, Aptara observed: "Publishers couldn't ask for a better position: the ground floor of an early-stage market experiencing exponential sales growth. The downside to being at the starting gate is the growing pains; the upside is the untapped revenue potential that lies ahead."

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Four Weekends and a Funeral by Ellie Palmer

Borrowing Kindle Books: Seattle Libraries Beta-Lend

Some libraries in Seattle are beta testing the Amazon Kindle feature that lets patrons select and place holds on Kindle versions of books, Brier Dudley wrote in the Seattle Times, noting that the "downside, from my perspective as a fan of public libraries, is that the process requires you to visit to borrow a book and have commercial offers interjected into the process. But then again, you're opting to consume a public library book via the world's largest e-commerce business, on a device optimized for selling books."

"It's a big deal for us because so many of our patrons have purchased Kindles, and they've been asking for the longest time," said Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System, which began offering the service Monday.

"I hope libraries are getting a deal on the service and the Kindle editions they acquire, because Amazon will benefit from the traffic and profiling opportunities generated by the public libraries, not to mention the big improvement in the Kindle's utility and appeal that library lending brings," Dudley observed.

New Owners for Bodhi Tree Bookstore

Good tidings from the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, West Hollywood, Calif.: the country's best-known metaphysical and spiritual bookstore is being sold by longtime owners Stan Madson and Phil Thompson to Karuana Gatimu and Lori Cutler. The transition takes place officially in mid-October. Madson and Thompson will help as needed after that and then retire from involvement in the store.

One of the first orders of business for the new owners is searching for a new location for the Bodhi Tree. (Madson and Thompson sold the building nearly two years ago.) They will likely move between the end of this year and next spring.

Madson and Thompson called the new owners "two very special women" who have backgrounds in both the spiritual and business world. They both have worked at Skechers, the shoe company, Gatimu as director of e-commerce and marketing operations and Culter as director of staffing.

Gatimu is also a life strategist, spiritualist and student of ancient technologies who is a non-denominational reverend with a practice since 1997. Cutler began an apprenticeship with a Toltec master five years ago and regularly goes on power journeys to the pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico as a teacher and guide.

The new owners aim to maintain the store as "a sanctuary for all on the path of spiritual knowledge" and continue its many community events, book signings and workshops. At the same time, they have the intention of expanding and enhancing the Bodhi Tree in part by using "new technology and educational techniques" that will "connect to the vast world that has exploded the past few years."

There is a nice symmetry about Gaitmu and Cutler's shared business experience at Skechers: in 1970, the Bodhi Tree was founded by Thompson, Madson and Dan Morris, who had met and worked together in aerospace at Douglas Aircraft.

Exploring Music and Memory

When Cape Cod resident Kate Whouley's new book, Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words: Travels with Mom in the Land of Dementia (Beacon Press, $24.95, 9780807003190), was published earlier this month, there was no question about where to hold the launch party: Titcomb's Bookshop in East Sandwich, Mass. The memoir's opening scene takes place in the store.

The inaugural bash for Whouley's first memoir, Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved, was hosted at Titcomb's in 2004, and is described in Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words. "Looking back, that was when I started to know something wasn't quite right with my mom and began to question it," said Whouley. "But I was still in enough denial that I didn't know anything for sure. That's the last moment where I feel like we were both happy, and we didn't know what was going to happen."

What came next was the discovery that Whouley's mother, Anne, a sassy, strong-willed former English teacher, was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. In Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words--a September Indie Next pick--Whouley writes with honesty and humor about the experience of being her mother's sole caregiver. She recalls what she learned during the difficult, heart-wrenching journey ("memory is overrated," for one thing) and shares how her long-complicated relationship with her mother was healed in an unexpected way. (See several videos here.)

The main thing Whouley would like readers to know about Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words is that it's not a depressing book and touches on much more than the effects of Alzheimer's. "It's about life and the passages we go through," said Whouley. "I don't want people to be afraid to pick it up. There are a lot of fun moments and lightness in the book."

This particular story might not have come about if Whouley hadn't fallen prey to "an irritable muse." She had been working on a narrative about music and the colorful members of the Cape Cod Conservatory Concert Band, for which she plays principal flute. "My mom kept turning up on every page whenever I started writing about music and my relationship to music," Whouley recalled. "I realized the book needed to be more about her." She scrapped the proposal and sample chapters she had already submitted to her agent and started again from scratch.

As a child, Whouley took up playing a wind instrument after a doctor suggested it would improve her asthma by helping to regulate breathing and increase her lung capacity. She asked for a clarinet. Her mother chose a flute for her instead, deeming it prettier. "My mother selected the flute for me for all the wrong reasons, but I cannot deny she made the right choice," wrote Whouley in Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words.

Decades later, as Anne slipped further into dementia, memories and words fading, music was a touchstone for her. "Every time I saw her the one question she would consistently ask me is, 'When is your next concert?'" said Whouley. "In the Alzheimer's mind, there's a lot of fear and confusion and scrambling to figure out what it is they're supposed to do or say next. When they're allowed to sit for a couple of hours and listen to music, their brain can rest. I think the music, on so many levels, gave her a break from struggling with the words she had forgotten."

Along with being a writer and a musician, Whouley is the owner of Books in Common, a consulting firm specializing in the retail book business. She volunteers with the Alzheimer's Services of Cape Cod & the Islands as a facilitator for their Arts & Alzheimer's initiative. Monthly art discussions take place at museums and galleries across Cape Cod especially for Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers.

When Whouley heard about the program, which recently expanded to include music, she was inspired to take part because she knew it was something her mother, who passed away in 2007, would have enjoyed. She also was looking to help others through the tough times that come after an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

"I didn't start out with any kind of grace in this," Whouley said. "I struggled for a long time until I started to understand things and realize I didn't have to get caught up with who my mom used to be or who I was to her and could let go of some of those emotions. It just became enjoyable to be there with her. I felt if I could help someone through the harder lessons I learned during the journey with my mom, it could do some good. That's part of the book, too."

Whouley will be at the New England Independent Booksellers Association fall conference in Providence, R.I., on October 13, and at the Miami Book Fair International in November. In addition, she'll be appearing at bookstores from coast to coast to promote Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words. Said Whouley, "I hope people read the book and feel it's not a poor me story but an affirmation of life." --Shannon McKenna Schmidt


Indies to Merge in Madison

Two independent bookstores in Madison, Wis., will merge next year. On the Facebook page for Avol's Bookstore, owner Ron Czerwien confirmed that A Room of One's Own bookstore "will take over our space effective 8-1-2012. Avol's will no longer operate as a stand alone retail store, but will sell used books on consignment through Room. I will function as the used book buyer within Room and will continue to operate Avol's on-line business. I'm very excited about this new venture and believe that Room, under this new configuration, will be able to continue to prosper in what has become an increasingly challenging environment for independent bookstores."

García Márquez Novel a Bestseller in Iran

Copies of Gabriel García Márquez's 1996 novel News of a Kidnapping have sold out in Tehran's bookshops this week "after detained opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi said the book's description of Colombian kidnappings offers an accurate reflection of his life under house arrest," the Guardian reported. Mousavi and opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi have been under house arrest since calling for mass protests last February in solidarity with other pro-democracy movements in the Arab world.

Last week, Mousavi was permitted to meet briefly with his daughters, and told them: "If you want to know about my situation in captivity, read Gabriel García Márquez's News of a Kidnapping." Word spread quickly online, "prompting hundreds of opposition supporters to seek out the book. Queues formed in some bookshops, and copies of the book sold out within days," the Guardian wrote.

The news was also shared on García Márquez's Facebook page, which linked to a Radio Free Europe blog post reporting that Mousavi's supporters had launched their own Facebook page, "News of a Kidnapping, the status of a president in captivity," and that "a number of Iranian websites and blogs have made an electronic version of the book in Persian available for download."

World Book Night: List of 25 Coming in November

A committee of booksellers and librarians will select the 25 books for the inaugural World Book Night in U.S., to be held next April 23, and should announce their choices in November, Madeline McIntosh, president of sales, operations and digital at Random House, said yesterday at the Book Industry Study Group annual meeting in New York. The committee is looking at "a starter list" derived in part from American Booksellers Association Indie Pick, American Library Association Best and Barnes & Noble Discover lists. The titles will be mostly adult books and some YAs by living authors that have been published already.

World Book Night will involve 40,000 people giving away a million copies of 25 titles, which will "celebrate the love that we and readers have for books," McIntosh said.

The effort is being supported by the major publishers, ABA, ALA, B&N and others, and Ingram is helping with distribution. World Book Night is also "in early discussions" with printers in the hopes of having printing services donated.

"The most critical development" for World Book Night in the U.S. was, McIntosh said, the hiring in August of Carl Lennertz, "who will make it happen." Lennertz is now working full time and has an office donated by the AAP. He's on the road already at the bookseller regional shows talking up World Book Night.


Image of the Day: Montana Says I Do

Earlier this month, the Montana Historical Society hosted a "wedding reception" in honor of I Do: A Cultural History of Montana Weddings by Martha Kohl. Dressed as a 1940s war bride, the author (r.) signed copies of her book for guests who wore vintage wedding attire. Later in the evening, she toasted "Montana couples, past, present and future," and the editors cut the cake.


All the News That's Fit for E-Books

For publishers, "selling content on the Internet has been always more about religion than business. In a world where users are saturated with news stories, most of them submitted for free, selling articles looks like selling fruits in the Garden of Eden," Benoit Raphael wrote in Forbes.

Noting that the "new digital, I mean 'post-web digital' (especially its mobile part) is also about packaging," Raphael offered "5 reasons e-books might be the new paid-content for news":

  1. Nonfiction short books might be the future standard.
  2. E-books are easy to distribute.
  3. E-books can bring more money to writers... and to news sites.
  4. E-book publishing is fast publishing.
  5. Everybody is an e-publisher, why not news sites?

Up for Bid: The $180,000 Dust Jacket

An "incredibly rare and desirable" dust jacket for a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is scheduled to be auctioned by Sotheby's in New York October 20, Booktryst reported. It is estimated the item will sell for between $150,000 and $180,000.

But wait, there's more. The dust jacket covers "an excellent copy of the first edition, first printing of The Great Gatsby, a book that in near-fine/fine condition sells for $7,000-$10,000," which is included in the deal. The same combination sold in 2009 for $182,000.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Ken Jennings on NPR's Fresh Air

This morning on Imus in the Morning: Ron Suskind, author of Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (Harper, $29.99, 9780061429255). Suskind is also on Tavis Smiley tomorrow.


Today on NPR's Fresh Air: Ken Jennings, author of Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks (Scribner, $25, 9781439167175).

Also on Fresh Air: Dr. Jerome Groopman and Dr. Pamela Hartzband, authors of Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What Is Right for You (Penguin Press, $27.95, 9781594203114).


Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Kerry Cohen, author of Dirty Little Secrets: Breaking the Silence on Teenage Girls and Promiscuity (Sourcebooks, $14.99, 9781402260698).


Tomorrow on KCRW's Bookworm: Maggie Nelson, author of The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (Norton, $24.95, 9780393072150). As the show put it: "Modern and post-modern art has gone up to a level of transgressive and theoretical border play that leaves many viewers bewildered or repelled. Critic Maggie Nelson guides us into the wide spectrum of response to this difficult, often uncomfortable, aesthetic realm."


Tomorrow on the Talk: Jermaine Jackson, author of You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother's Eyes (Touchstone, $26, 9781451651560).


Tomorrow on MSNBC's Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell: Levi Johnston, author of Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs (Touchstone, $25, 9781451651652). He will also appear on Extra and CNN's Newsroom.


Tomorrow on the View: Dyan Cannon, author of Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant (It Books, $25.99, 9780061961403).


Tomorrow on Tavis Smiley: Calvin Trillin, author of Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff (Random House, $27, 9781400069828).


Tomorrow night on the Daily Show: Jennifer Granholm, former Governor of Michigan and author of A Governor's Story: The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future (PublicAffairs, $27.99, 9781586489977). She will also appear on MSNBC's Morning Joe, CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight and CNBC's Squawk Box.


Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Tavis Smiley, author of Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure (SmileyBooks, $19.95, 9781401933906).

Television: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

A TV movie adaptation of Terry McMillan's novel A Day Late and a Dollar Short is in development for the Lifetime network. Variety reported that Steven Tolkin will direct and Shernold Edwards will write the script. Executive producers are Tolkin and Bill Haber.

Books & Authors

Awards: Lane Anderson Winner Too Hot for U.S.

Winners of this year's $10,000 Lane Anderson Award, which recognizes science writing by Canadian authors, were The Ptarmigan's Dilemma: An Exploration into How Life Organizes and Supports Itself by John Theberge and Mary Theberge (adult category) and Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be by Daniel Loxton (young readers).

The Globe & Mail reported that Loxton's book experienced difficulty finding a U.S. publisher and "wound up being published by Canadian-owned Kids Can Press, which also expected objections from creationists. So far, the book... has generated more prize nominations than controversy."

"So many of the publishing professionals I was talking to were leery," said Loxton.  "When push came to shove they declined to publish the book. Several did indicate to me it was too hot a topic."

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, September 27:

Feast Day of Fools: A Novel by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster, $26.99, 9781451643114) continues the story of Hackberry Holland, a disillusioned and vengeful Texas sheriff.

Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile by Ariel Dorfman (Houghton Mifflin, $27, 9780547549460) chronicles the physical and philosophical odyssey of a Chilean man forced to flee his homeland after Pinochet's 1973 coup.

Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz (Villard, $22, 9780345502698) is a sensitive guide for grieving deceased animal companions.

Nightwoods: A Novel by Charles Frazier (Random House, $26, 9781400067091) takes place in rural North Carolina, where a reclusive woman is suddenly forced to care for her murdered sister's children.

Mule: A Novel of Moving Weight by Tony D'Souza (Mariner Books, $14.95, 9780547576718) follows a young couple who enter the drug trade in order to survive the recession.

River of Smoke: A Novel by Amitav Ghosh (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28, 9780374174231) is epic historical fiction about foreigners in China and the resulting Opium Wars.

Worm: The First Digital World War by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, 9780802119834) chronicles the fight against the Confickxer computer worm, which infected eight million machines by 2009--including financial and military networks.

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster, $26.99, 9781439190135) explores the life and times of the famous movie dog.

Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard (Holt, $28, 9780805093070) gives the Fox News host's analysis of Lincoln's death and the aftermath.

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander (Kensington, $19.95, 9780758255679) is a historical romance about an heir's attempts to seduce and marry a widow.

Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook: Hannah Swensen's Recipes from the Cookie Jar by Joanne Fluke (Kensington, $18.95, 9780758234971) includes cake and cookie recipes like Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

Now in paperback:

Freedom: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (Picador, $16, 9780312576462).

The Unquiet by J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Patricia Gaffney and Ruth Ryan Langan (Jove, $7.99, 9780515149982).

Winter: Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik (House of Anansi Press, $19.95, 9780887849756).

The Potter's Field by Andrea Camilleri (Penguin, $15, 9780143120131).

Book Brahmin: Héctor Tobar

Héctor Tobar, born in Los Angeles to Guatemalan immigrant parents, is a former foreign correspondent and now columnist for the Los Angeles Times; his previous books are Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States and the novel The Tattooed Soldier. His new novel, The Barbarian Nurseries, a tale of modern Southern California, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on September 27, 2011.


On your nightstand now:

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald. I think I had to be older to enjoy this book, having started it some years back and given up. Now I'm on the final pages and finding its Proustian wanderings through the psychological wreckage of modern European history utterly amazing. Next up: I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita or The History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters by Julian Barnes.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The People's Almanac by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace. I carried this thick (and now forgotten) collection of anecdotes, lists and musings around with me everywhere when I was 13 years old.

Your top five authors:

Don DeLillo: I wouldn't be writing books if hadn't read DeLillo when I was in my late 20s; among other things, I saw my Los Angeles in his Bronx. Miguel de Cervantes: I read Don Quixote at 40 (the Edith Grossman translation, which is vivid, modern) and realized it was, at once, a celebration of the power of realism and of the imagination (and isn't that what fiction is all about?). Shakespeare: I'm about halfway through his oeuvre, and all I can say is "The dude had quite a range." Toni Morrison: the sweep and strangeness in Song of Solomon felt like Latino history to me; her books opened a path so many of us have taken since. Anton Chekhov: the good doctor observed and then dissected the social mores of a society that was about to consume itself.

Your reading "guilty pleasures":

War nonfiction. Anything about Gettysburg and Stalingrad, especially. And anything about the last days of the Confederacy (and slavery) and the last days of the Third Reich. I really enjoy seeing the bad guys of history lose over and over again.

Book you've faked reading:

Ulysses. Every couple of years, I give it another go.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Blindness by Jose Saramago. Utterly gripping from start to finish, it's an allegory about all the horrors of the 20th century and an amazing work of imagination.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. The book inside isn't bad either.

Book that changed your life:

Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros. This came out at about the time I started writing fiction. It was a polished, poetic collection of stories; serious about craft and also very close to my own experience. I read it and decided I should quit my newspaper job and get an MFA if I wanted to write books myself. Which is what I did.

Favorite line from a book:

"There was so much sound in the iron of those curves he could almost taste it, like a toy you put in your mouth when you are little." From Don DeLillo's Libra, describing Lee Harvey Oswald obsessively riding the subways in New York. I read that when I was about 26 or so and felt a shift in my writing brain: I was never the same after that. (Years later, by the way, I concluded the entire premise of the novel was wrong, but that's another story.)

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Stranger by Albert Camus. But in French this time, which would involve quite a bit of study.


Book Review

Children's Review: The Cheshire Cheese Cat

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy, Randall Wright, illus. by Barry Moser (Peachtree Publishers, $16.95 hardcover, 256p., ages 9-12, 9781561455959, October 1, 2011)

"He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms," begins this gentle and clever story of unlikely friendship between a cat, a mouse, a raven, and an esteemed Victorian novelist.

With his "ragged ear, numerous scrapes, and a tracery of scars," Skilley certainly looks the part of a street cat. But he has a kind heart--and a secret. After Pinch ("cold-blooded and volatile... not a cat to be trifled with") tells Skilley that the innkeeper at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese seeks a mouser, Skilley begins angling for the position. But not for the reasons one might think. It's not mice he seeks, but cheese. He earns the job of mouser by capturing a mouse--but then scurries out of sight of the innkeeper and releases the little fellow. Pip, the mouse, and Skilley strike a deal--the cat will keep the mice safe if they will supply him with Cheshire cheese. Skilley is not the only one with something to hide. The feline hero discovers, "This inn has more secrets than mice." Pip can read and write, for one thing (Nell, the innkeeper's daughter taught him--a là The Old Curiosity Shop). For another, there's a raven they keep hidden in the attic who claims to be the property of Queen Victoria. Croomes the cook keeps a secret of her own, as does the mouse-hating barmaid Adele. Charles Dickens, a frequent diner at the inn, is on to them all. If only he could come up with an opening line for his new novel. Adele brings Pinch to the inn because she thinks the job is more than Skilley can handle, and chaos ensues.

One of the most poignant events in the novel occurs when Skilley, attempting to hide his friendship with Pip, accidentally hurts him. Skilley confides in Maldwyn the raven, and their illuminating discussion about how to repair the friendship could serve as a model for children experiencing similar circumstances. But mostly this is a great rollicking adventure, as natural-born enemies play against type, and everyone's secrets come to light when Pip and Skilley's plot to return Maldwyn to the Queen goes comically awry.

This lovely book suggests that Pip, having helped the great Victorian writer come up with his famous opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities, provided the name for the hero in Great Expectations. Children will lap up this tale of friendship and adventure, and adults will be entertained by the plentiful allusions to Dickens and his characters. Barry Moser's charming illustrations of the main characters combined with the commanding storytelling voice make this a charming read-aloud for the entire family. --Jennifer M. Brown

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center
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